He also wrote a book about the 544 days he endured in captivity. “Prisoner,” published earlier this month, is a gripping, moving and sometimes absurd recounting of his prolonged detention. (The Post ran an excerpt from the book and also produced an excellent mini-documentary on the struggle to free him.)
Rezaian found himself at the center of global geopolitics, as the Obama administration and its European allies walked a diplomatic tightrope in their attempts to secure a nuclear deal with Iran. But his book is also an Iranian American’s tormented reflection on an ancestral land he still loves; it’s a journalist’s Kafkaesque chronicle of life as a political hostage; and it’s a husband and son’s lament for the anguish of those dearest to him.
Rezaian chatted with Today’s WorldView about the book, the politics of his detention and his enduring identification with Iran.
TWV: After the trauma and hardship of your experience, was writing about it hard? Was it cathartic?
Jason Rezaian: Not in the ways one might expect. It’s been empowering in that, for the first time, I was able to take control of the narrative and tell the parts I wanted to — and how I wanted to. So that has felt good. It’s now, more than anything, a story about things that happened in my past. I feel like I have some distance from it and that this process probably helped that. But writing the difficult parts of my experience — the threats, interrogations, the not knowing — was triggering when I wrote. I had to get myself through those periods knowing that I would have nightmares again. Also, on a writing level, maintaining a consistent voice, especially during the darkest scenes, was a challenge.
There are a lot of dark moments. Which was the darkest — when you felt the least hope?
The period of solitary confinement will always remain front and center as a time that I have a hard time believing I survived. But there were others. The time between my trial and when I was going to be released, many months later, was intolerable at times. As I said before, it was the not knowing. It wasn’t as though I was facing a defined sentence. In that sense it felt very precarious right up until the end, and in the lonely hours late at night I often wondered if I’d ever get out. It’s a strange thing to live on that knife’s edge for so long.
Was there a point in this deeply “alone” experience — in the dark about your future and the world outside your cell — that you realized you were at the center of a huge geopolitical power play?
I was not at all aware of how close to the center of the conversation over that geopolitical moment I became. My wife and mother would feed me bits and pieces of information, but it was impossible to see the concerted effort that my family, The Post and other supporters were making toward my release. When I was released I was shocked to learn about how many people were involved in working for my freedom. It made the whole thing just a little easier to accept, knowing that I hadn’t been forgotten. Now, though, it is more complicated. Like it or not, I’m forever linked with a really contentious historical episode between the two countries that I love most.
Were you the victim of political jockeying for power within the Islamic Republic?
Without a doubt. I believe that our arrest was one of many attempts by forces in the Revolutionary Guard to disrupt the nuclear negotiations. They knew it would complicate matters for President [Hassan] Rouhani and his negotiation team. And it did.
Ultimately, though, they all fell in line and used it as a leverage play in the negotiations. You can go back and look at everything that was said about me by Rouhani and his ministers. They implied my guilt, talked about their hope that I would be released, and talked about their openness to trading people. Pretty callous stuff, if you ask me.
Is it weird to now get attacked as a regime apologist when writing op-eds defending the nuclear deal or warning against the Trump administration’s anti-Iran policies?
I’m used to it by now. Iran is such a divisive issue. So over the years, no matter what I wrote about Iran, someone would attack me. Does it bother me? A little. Has it slowed me down? Not at all. If anything, I think it’s more important than ever to have an open dialogue about Iran and discuss, honestly, the pros and cons of dealing with it — how to support the aspirations of the people there, what a relationship between the United States and Iran should and could look like and under what conditions. Instead, we’re stuck with what we have now, which is essentially a lot of people who haven’t set foot in that country recently — if ever — telling us what to think. Frankly, as someone who lived and reported from there for years, and paid a heavy price for doing so, I know we can do better than the current dialogue on Iran.
The book conveys your complicated love for Iran. Is it easy for you to now separate the country from the regime? Do you hope to one day return?
I have always been able to keep the two separate. I hope, if anything, this book makes people understand that they should be able to view the people and regime of Iran — and of every country, for that matter — as distinct from one another. If a large number of people come to that realization as a result of this book I’d be deeply satisfied. I do hope to return. I am sure I will. But a lot will have to change first, and I don’t see that happening in the near term.
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